Why the ASA banning ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes moves society forward

As posted on their Twitter page, @ASA_UK say from now on, “ads must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

A hugely welcome move, this ban applies to broadcast and non-broadcast media- meaning social and online stuff too.

Hands up who else gets annoyed by what feels like yet another ad showing women doing all the housework? It’s safe to say that both in the media and real life, sexism still exists on a large scale. But after a major review into the presence of gender stereotypes, the Advertising Standards Agency announced they’ve put a blanket ban in place. Talk about a breakthrough.

Admittedly the tide has been slowly turning for a little while (we’re looking at you, Gillette), but some ads have still slipped through the net. And one that irritated me massively was an Aptamil baby formula commercial. Showing a baby girl growing up to be a ballerina, while her male counterpart would become a mathematician, it screamed stereotypical gender roles being forced upon us. And with media imagery everywhere we turn, any suggestion of fitting into a certain box due to our gender is terrifying.

Working alongside the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), the ASA’s recent report about gender stereotyping is aptly entitled ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’. In it, the report confirms gender stereotypes “are said to relate to body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and role”, also acknowledging their presence can be observed in the form of “mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.”

They continue that “Gender stereotypes have the potential to cause harm by inviting assumptions about adults and children that might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them.” And quite rightly, it’s also outlined, “These assumptions can lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people‘s lives”, resulting in negative outcomes, which affect society as a whole, the economy and individuals.

Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA explains: “Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential”.

In short, we need to stop placing restrictions on anybody, purely to sell a product. The ripple effect of a child or young adult absorbing gender stereotyping on TV could be very damaging. You don’t have to look far for evidence and last year, the London Fire Brigade criticised firefighters being repeatedly portrayed as sex symbols on TV, claiming it prevents women from applying to the fire service.

As stated by the ASA website, there are a few scenarios which would be flagged up due to the new rules.

These include:

  1. Ads showing a man with his feet up and a mess around him while a woman is seen to be solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
  2. Any depictions of a man or woman failing to achieve a task because of their gender, such as a woman’s inability to park a car or man changing a nappy.
  3. Implication that a person’s physique is a significant factor in them not being successful either in their romantic or social life.
  4. Anything which belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ tasks.

Plus, adverts such as the aforementioned Aptamil one could have been classed within the category of “handled with care” by ASA, which will cover commercial messaging “that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g caring)”.

The ASA have covered all bases with their new guidelines and they also look to address the Insta vs reality syndrome we all face, with a special mention made about any ads aimed at new mums.

The ban thankfully targets adverts suggesting “that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing”.

As Guy finishes, “It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond”,

A huge step in the right direction, here at GLAMOUR HQ we wholeheartedly applaud this new ruling. Moving society forward and marking a zero-tolerance approach to offensive gender stereotypes, it’s about time too.

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